12/05/2016

Tiger Woods turns 41 on December 30 with hopes that he’ll play a full schedule on the PGA Tour in 2017. That means Woods next US start should likely be in San Diego January 26 – 29 in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. If he remains healthy, that will begin his run-up to the Masters, where he hopes to peak in early April.

After a 16-month break from competition to allow his back and leg to fully heal from injuries and surgery, Woods has played a 72-hole event only once since August, 2015, finishing 15th in the Hero World Challenge at Albany in the Bahamas in early December.

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That was a week of Tiger sending mixed signals: he led the field with 24 birdies yet finished only 4-under par for the tournament because of eight bogies and six doubles. He shot rounds of 73, 65, 70 and 76 with a 32 on the back nine on Friday and a 40 on the same holes on Sunday. He tied for the best 18-hole score in the field while also having the worst 18 hole score.

He hit some excellent chips and recovery shots yet he also totally blew some short shots, and once again showed evidence of the dreaded “chip-yips.”

Woods also moved up some 200 spots in the World Golf Rankings and is now ranked 650th in the world, yet, in reality in the Bahamas, he only beat two other players in the 17-man field.

So what comes next for Tiger?

His former coach Hank Haney saw mainly the positive and tweeted that he thinks Woods is on track to once again contend in – and win – majors. Writer Dan Jenkins – who has never been described as a Woods fan – saw the week with a less optimistic view emphasizing that Woods beat only Russell Knox and Emiliano Grillo (Justin Rose withdrew after an opening round 74) so talk of winning majors is at best premature.

No one knows yet if Woods comeback will be for real in 2017, but remember that in 2013, before the latest round of injuries sidelined him, Woods won five events in 16 starts, also finished second once, and didn’t miss a cut all season.

Will that be the year ahead for the 41-year old Woods? I think most golf fans would at least be happy if he can play the year injury free and be competitive. Of course, to Tiger Woods, being competitive probably means winning at least a few times.

But to the rest of us, watching Tiger repeatedly in heated final round leaderboard battles with Jason Day, Jordan Speith, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and the rest of the generation of golfers who’ve come on since Woods last major win in 2008, that would be a year to savor.

Here’s hoping that’s the year we’ll see in golf in 2017.